How do I study for an in-class essay when I have no way of knowing what the question will be?
For an in-class essay, first identify what you DO know about the test. For example, the text it will be about. Think about the main topics of the text and some questions one could ask pertaining to each topic. Doing this will help you to identify some possibilities of what your teacher could ask you to write about. Also, it would be good to identify some evidence you could use for each question and have a general idea of what some responses to the possible questions could be. I would also recommend that you think about what subjects you have focused on during your class, this could give you hints about possible topics for the essay. Also, of course, you should make sure you are very familiar with the text you have been studying so that whatever question is thrown at you, you are comfortable with the topic of the text, characters, plot, etc.
I am starting the college application process, but I feel overwhelmed with all the options. How do I know where I should be applying?
It's pretty typical for students to feel somewhat stressed about college applications, but I think that the key is organization and having a game plan. In order to narrow down all the options, you could write a list of the things that you know you want, or don't want, in a potential school. For example, a specific state or region that you want to stick to, or how big of a school you want. Doing this can eliminate many schools out there and help you find the ones that really interest you. Once you find a school you may be interested in applying to, try looking at their application information on their website to see the average GPA, test scores, acceptance rate, etc. to see if it would be a good match for you academically. As you find school that you like, add it to a list of spreadsheet along with some basic information about it or why you liked it. This will make your list seem a lot more manageable and make you able to track the places you already researched.
Is the ACT writing test optional? How do I know if I should take it?
Yes, the writing portion of the ACT is optional. When you register, you will decide whether you would like to take the test with or without writing. To determine whether taking the writing test is a good idea for you, you could start by looking at the admissions requirements for any colleges you may be interested in applying to. Many, but not all, colleges require you to take the ACT with the writing portion of the test. I would also recommend that you do at least one sample writing test, which you can get for free from the ACT website, in order to see how comfortable you are with the type of prompts they use. Also, even if you don't feel too confident the first time you do one, practice really is the key to doing your best on the ACT.